Fraudsters are always attempting new tactics in hopes of tricking their targets, and the Imposter Scam is a particularly deceitful scheme that anyone could potentially fall victim to regardless of age, interests, or stage of life. No matter the ploy used in an Imposter Scam, this con aims to fool you into thinking you are communicating with a trusted source and fabricating an urgent issue that requires an immediate payment.
How Does the Imposter Scam Play Out?
There are many variations of this ruse, which may include receiving a call or message from someone claiming to be from a trusted business or organization you have a personal account with, such as a utility company or financial institution. The caller claims there is an issue with your record, your account has been compromised, or that there is an outstanding fee that needs to be paid immediately. Other scenarios could be someone claiming to represent a government agency, or even a family member or close friend insisting you are in legal trouble or your loved one is in dire straits. All situations require you make an immediate payment through a money transfer or provide personal information as the solution.
Threats of service disruption, account suspension or closure, legal action or other harmful consequences are made if you do not come through. This of course is all a fabricated story. The imposter has zero ties to the institution or person they are claiming to be associated with and are only hoping to persuade you into taking immediate action and paying these fictious fees before you have time to substantiate their claims. Any organization could be used in the cover story, but keep a special an eye out for government imposter scams and bank imposter scams.
How Can Imposter Scams Be Avoided?
Contact and verify.
Contact the organization or loved one immediately to verify the claim. Independently reach out to the company in question using your standard preferred method such as calling the number on your bill or on the company’s website. Even if the person who contacted you left a call-back number, contact the business or individual independently. If the message came via text or email, do not respond, and do not click on any links within the message.
Stick to your standard.
If you discover that you are in arrears with your account, pay it as you ordinarily would. Never wire money to meet the urgent demands of the company that you normally pay using an alternate method. Your utility company or financial institution will never require you to pay with a money transfer.
Search for slip-ups.
Imposter scams are designed to deceive you by looking and sounding like genuine communications, so be sure to review carefully for mistakes that may indicate a scam. Watch for correspondence that contain misspellings, improper use of language, poor grammar, or unusual formatting. Large companies have copywriters, proofreaders, and professionally prepared scripts to prevent these types of mistakes.
Question their communications.
Legitimate customer service agents are trained to speak politely and calmly to clients, especially when making contact about a first-time issue with an account or service. If you have previously been in good standing with a company and you feel that their representative is being overly insistent or even aggressive after contacting you out of the blue, it could indicate that it is not a reliable conversation. If the scam allegedly involves a government organization such as FTC Imposter Scams or IRS Imposter Scams, keep in mind their preferred first communication channel is via a mailed letter and not through a demanding voicemail or message in social media.
Remember the rule.
If you are still unsure if communications have been genuine, remember this one rule; you should never, ever send a money transfer to someone you have not met in person. You should only use Western Union to send money to friends and family members that you personally know. No matter if you believe you are sending money to fix an issue with an account, settle an outstanding fee, a deposit for a service, or for an emergency, you should never send the payment via a money transfer without first confirming the situation.
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to one of these scams and sent money using Western Union, report it immediately by calling your country-specific Fraud Hotline. Find more information on other scams and how to protect yourself by visiting the Western Union Consumer Protection Center.